New York, NY –The police union president strongly condemned New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner James O’Neill’s decision to fire Officer Daniel Pantaleo in connection with the death of Eric Garner and warned that the city was in trouble.
“Turn the flag upside down - we’re in distress,” Police Benevolent Association (PBA) President Patrick Lynch told reporters at a press conference after Commissioner O’Neill announced Officer Pantaleo’s termination.
“The captain has jumped ship,” Lynch continued. “The mayor told him to do it. And the streets are falling to chaos.”
The union boss said that “justice had not been served” by Officer Pantaleo’s termination but that it had confirmed that the police commissioner and the mayor were all about politics and not about justice.
“The job is dead because the leadership of this city and the police department is absolute afraid of the criminal advocates,” Lynch said. “And based this decision not on the facts, but based this decision on the politics. What makes it equally sad is that due process is now gone for New York City police officers.”
He accused the commissioner of running to “the corner that has the loudest crowd,” and said he had made self-preservation first over fact.
In his announcement of the termination, Commissioner O’Neill said that he was confident NYPD officers would respect his decision in the matter and would understand why he had done it and brushed off concerns about the police union’s reaction.
But an NYPD official told Blue Lives Matter that the effects of Commissioner O’Neill’s decision would be quickly felt on the city streets.
“I think that guys will be much less likely to be proactive, much less likely to chase people down,” he predicted. “They’ll be more likely to just take a report.”
He told Blue Lives Matter that he thought the pushback that has been seen in the streets lately – meaning the recent water attacks and last Saturday night’s near riot that left several NYPD officers injured – was going to get worse.
Lynch called out Commissioner O’Neill’s own remarks about having been a police officer.
“To try to say ‘I was a cop for 34 years but now I’m the commissioner, I go by different rules’ is absolutely wrong,” the union boss ranted. “This was not a crime. It was a chaotic situation.”
Lynch pointed out several times that when Garner died, then-Chief of Patrol O’Neill visited the station house and said that Officer Pantaleo had done nothing wrong and that the department had his back.
He asked what had changed the commissioner’s mind since then and referred to him as Pinocchio a number of times during the press conference.
Lynch said the PBA was calling for a no confidence vote on Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police commissioner of the City of New York
“It’s absolutely essential that the world know the New York City Police Department is ‘rudderless and frozen.’ The leadership has abandoned ship and left our police officers on the street, alone, without backing,” he claimed.
“This mayor needs to be removed. The police commissioner needs to know he has lost the police department,” Lynch said. “There is no confidence in their leadership at City Hall and One Police Plaza.”
Officer Pantaleo’s attorney, Stuart London, told reporters that his client had been notified of his termination 13 minutes before Commissioner O’Neill announced it publicly.
He called the commissioner’s decision “ridiculous, arbitrary, and capricious.”
London also said that at the very last minute, the commissioner had backed out of an agreement they’d made to let Officer Pantaleo, a 13-year veteran of the NYPD, keep his vested pension.
He said that as of Friday, NYPD was preparing the pension paperwork for the officer and then he received a text, shortly after the mayor and the police commissioner did a press conference together, telling him the paperwork wasn’t coming.
London said that for de Blasio, the justice that he had publicly promised so many times to the Garner family had to be a firing with no pension for Officer Pantaleo.
Commissioner O’Neill denied that City Hall had pressured him to fire the officer.
Officer Pantaleo had been suspended since Aug. 2 after an NYPD trial judge said he was guilty of using a chokehold on Eric Garner and should be fired.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado issued a non-binding verdict that said Officer Pantaleo was not guilty of aggravated assault or obstructing breathing, but that he had violated department policy regarding the use of chokeholds, WABC reported.
In her decision, Maldonado said she found Officer Pantaleo’s denial of having used a chokehold on Garner “implausible and self-serving,” The New York Times reported.
She claimed the video and the autopsy showed “overwhelming evidence” Officer Pantaleo had used a chokehold despite being trained not to.
Deputy Commissioner Maldonado’s recommendation was forwarded to NYPD Police Commissioner James O’Neill, who held the power to make the ultimate determination about the fate of the officer’s employment.
Officer Pantaleo was on desk duty for five years after the incident with Garner in July of 2014 until he was suspended on Aug. 2.
Garner was arrested by NYPD officers on July 17, 2014, after police stopped him for selling individual, untaxed loose cigarettes on a city sidewalk.
He resisted arrest and fought with officers who struggled to take the 350-pound man into custody.
In the process of subduing Garner, video taken by witnesses showed that Officer Pantaleo had his arm around Garner's neck and pressed his face against the sidewalk.
Garner repeatedly told officers “I can’t breathe,” a phrase that became a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter in the months that followed.
Officer Pantaleo later said he tried to use a “seatbelt maneuver” on Garner, and did not mean to put the much larger man into a choke hold.
Garner lost consciousness on the sidewalk, and died in the hospital an hour later from a medical emergency.
The autopsy report showed no damage to any area of his neck, and it was determined that he died of a medical emergency induced by officers who were arresting him. The medical examiner declared it was a homicide.
A New York Grand Jury declined to indict on any criminal charges.
The federal inquiry has dragged on for five years and ended with federal prosecutors deciding not to charge Officer Pantaleo.
Despite the fact that nobody thought there was any criminal wrongdoing, Commissioner O’Neill told reporters that he was taking the trial judge’s recommendation in firing the officer.
Lynch announced that the PBA would be handing out “guides” for use by their members in performing their jobs going forward.
He explained that they were basically patrol handbooks that outlined specifically what the NYPD wanted them to do in every situation and said that officers were to follow them exactly.
“Every police officer needs to understand that if an arrest ends in tragedy, they’re on their own because city isn’t going to back them up,” Lynch said.
He said the handbooks were “a guide until they decide it’s not.”
“We’re saying go by the patrol guide rules. It’s their rules,” Lynch explained. “The geniuses at headquarters made up these rules so use them.”
The union boss also said PBA would be asking the governor to have the mayor removed from office for abandoning his post and participating in anti-police rhetoric that has gotten officers killed.
He said de Blasio hasn’t been around to deal with the chaos going on in his city because he’s too busy running around the country trying to get another job.
“The mayor needs to be removed,” Lynch insisted.
London said that now-former Officer Pantaleo would be filing an appeal of his termination under Article 78.